Wed | Jun 3, 2020

Editorial | In a state of anarchy | Don’t let St James be another Tivoli

Published:Friday | February 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The state of public emergency imposed by the Holness administration in St James last month has staunched the bloodletting by criminals there.

In the first 37 days of 2018, a dozen homicides were recorded in the parish. That's nine, or 43 per cent, fewer than for the corresponding period last year. These statistics have translated into something else that is important.

Like in the aftermath of the West Kingston security operation and accompanying state of emergency in 2010, there has been, over the past three weeks, a heightened sense of freedom in St James. Despite the inconvenience of the occasional security checkpoints, people, at least in the major population centres, such as the city of Montego Bay, walk and drive around with an air of confidence. Or so it appears.

Yet, there are legitimate questions about whether these gains - assuming that they hold until then - will be sustained when the state of emergency lapses on May 2 and if the measures are not extended by Parliament, which is likely to be the case. This newspaper is not sanguine about the post-emergency environment. The post-Tivoli situation and how the St James emergency has been undertaken give us cause for concern.

In 2010, after the security forces defeated Christopher Coke's private militia when they went into West Kingston to execute an arrest warrant on the community strongman and gangster, homicides, from a record high of 1,680 in 2009, fell by a third over the next three years. Criminals vacated Tivoli Gardens and several other West Kingston communities. Several communities seemed to have extricated themselves from the hegemony of gangs.




Unfortunately, it didn't last. The Government faltered with social interventions. Distrust persisted between formal institutions and communities that often operated as though they were apart from the Jamaican State and the vigilance of the security forces soon lapsed. In short order, the gang wars returned as pretenders sought to assert leadership of splintered groups and/or to regain and expand turf.

The situation has quietened in recent months since the declaration of a section of West Kingston a zone of special operations (ZOSO), a designation just shy of a state of emergency.

St James is not quite West Kingston. At least it doesn't have a Tivoli Gardens as a fortified badman's redoubt. The parish, though, has, in recent years, earned the reputation as Jamaica's most murderous, driven by gang and other feuds among perpetrators of the sweepstakes scams that target mostly elderly Americans. In 2017, there were 335 homicides in St James, an increase of about a fifth. The murder rate of 182 per 100,000 was three times the national average. Amid that anarchy, criminals behaved with murderous impunity.

It appeared that the Government lacked a clear response to the parish's crime, and was only galvanised to seriously act with the state of emergency after the United States issued a travel advisory against Jamaica, which might have hurt the island's tourism industry, of which Montego Bay is a primary hub.

Put differently, it is not our sense that the St James state of emergency was the outcome of intelligence-driven strategic planning. If that were the case, we would have expected that its execution would have been fulfilled with greater precision, with the security forces having at the outset not only adequate detention centres with appropriate processing and interrogation facilities, but knowing ahead of time the people they planned to detain.

We wouldn't expect them, at this time, as Prime Minister Holness last week suggested to be the case, "building the intelligence picture of the facilitators" of crime, as well as of their foot soldiers.

We want, as will most Jamaicans, to be assured that we have misread this process, that St James won't end like West Kingston, and that there is more to the St James operation than meets the eye. Maybe the situation can be salvaged and critical lessons have been learned. Otherwise, prepare for the return of the criminals and another round of mayhem.